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Clippers-Timberwolves preview: Keep the brooms handy

The Clippers have won two straight, and can't really afford to lose another regular season game if they hope to regain home court advantage in the playoffs. They can make it three straight and sweep the series with Minnesota with a win tonight.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

April 10th, 2013, 12:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ricky Rubio
Willie Green SG Luke Ridnour
Caron Butler SF Andrei Kirilenko
Blake Griffin PF Derrick Williams
DeAndre Jordan C Nikola Pekovic
Advanced Stats through games of April 9
91.2 (19th of 30) Pace 92.6 (11th of 30)
110.6 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.0 (24th of 30)
103.7 (8th of 30) DRtg 105.4 (13th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (groin) out
Kevin Love (hand/knee surgery) out

Brandon Roy (knee surgery) out

Malcolm Lee (knee/hip surgery) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

When the Clippers lost three straight culminating with their home loss to the Pacers on April first, they made things very tough on themselves. By falling two games behind the Nuggets and Grizzlies the Clippers put themselves in a position where they pretty much had to win their final seven games. Well, two games in, the plan is working. Back to back wins over the Suns and Lakers mark the first time since the All Star Break that the Clippers have won consecutive games by double digits. It's been almost as long since the Clippers have won more than two games in a row. Playing at home, knowing that they need to keep winning both to build momentum for the playoffs as well as to try to regain home court advantage in the first round, hopefully the team will not come out flat tonight. Against the Lakers, Blake Griffin seemed to be more like himself, having recovered from his calf injury somewhat. Griffin and Chris Paul need to lead the team through the final eight days of the regular season, and they can't afford stumbles against the likes of the Timberwolves. The Clippers are 3-0 against the Wolves so far and can make them their second sweep victim in a row with a win tonight.

The Antagonist:

The Timberwolves are much healthier than the last time they played the Clippers, but they're still far from full strength. Chase Budinger returned to action three weeks ago after missing over four months for knee surgery, and Nikola Pekovic is coming off a stretch in which he was the Conference Player of the Week after missing a couple weeks in March. But unfortunately for them, superstar Kevin Love is done for the season, having elected to have knee surgery while he was already out of action with a broken hand. Give the Wolves credit for not tanking though -- they are 7-7 in their last 14 games despite having long ago been eliminated from the playoff race. This is an intriguing team even without Love, and they could be great with Love -- though a shooting guard wouldn't hurt. The shame of the Wolves is that we've now gone two full seasons and barely seen Love and Ricky Rubio play together. Oh well, maybe next year. The Wolves tormented the Clippers last season, winning three of four meetings, several in last second fashion. The Clippers are getting their revenge with three straight wins so far, and going for the sweep tonight.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. You might expect looking at the roster that the Wolves would be terrible on defense but decent on offense, but in fact the opposite is true. They are slightly above average in defensive efficiency, but near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency.
  • Record breaking seasons. It's confusing to have the Clippers in the midst of their best season ever, but still have them in danger of opening the playoffs on the road. What's going on? Well, as it happens, the Clippers aren't the only team having their best season ever. Memphis has, like the Clippers, already set a franchise record for wins with 52 so far (their previous high was 50). Denver is sitting on 53 wins with five games to go, and their NBA franchise record is 54 wins, so they'll set a record this season as well (the ABA Nuggets won 60 and 65 games but we won't count that since it included wins over the Flint Tropics). That's not even to mention that Oklahoma City and Golden State are having their best seasons in almost 20 years. There are just a lot of good teams out there this year, and they can't all have home court in the first round.
  • NBA steals leaders. Chris Paul has been the NBA steals per game leader almost all season. He was recently passed by Ricky Rubio, but regained the lead last night when Rubio managed just one against the Warriors. Paul has 158 steals in 65 games (2.43 steals per game) while Rubio is sitting on 125 steals in 52 games (2.31). Literally two additional steals could change this race. They'll be facing each other tonight, but also looking to sneak into passing lanes whenever possible.
  • Back-to-back Wolves. The Wolves are playing in the second game of a road back-to-back, having lost to the Warriors in Oakland last night. That's a clear advantage for the Clippers, who could scarcely be more rested, playing just their second game in six days.
  • Rubio ice-cold. Rubio isn't really in the NBA for his shooting, but even for him he had a terrible night in Oakland last night. He went 0-10 against the Warriors, the worst shooting performance of his young career. He's had a sore left shoulder, and perhaps it was bothering him last night.
  • Billups at practice. Chauncey Billups practiced full speed yesterday, but is not expected to play tonight. There's little reason for the Clippers to rush him back, though it is a bit of a tight rope. If he's viewed as crucial to the playoffs, then there's little point in risking him in these final regular season games. But at the same time, it might be nice to get him on the court, up to speed and integrated with his teammates, before the postseason starts. I figure he'll give it a go in the final two games, possibly a bit before.
  • Williams on Griffin. Derrick Williams has had little luck defending Griffin when he's had to this season. Griffin's averaging over 21 points while shooting almost 55% against the Wolves this season and he's overpowered Williams when they've been matched up.
  • Bond villain. My kids and I have decided that Nikola Pekovic should be a villain in a James Bond movie. ClipperMax has dubbed him Strange Occupation. I have a few other NBA players on my list of potential Bond villains. You definitely have to have Hamed Haddadi on that list. I think Anthony Davis fits on the list as well. And maybe Nate Robinson.
  • Bowlcut. Speaking of watching the Timberwolves with my kids, the last time the Clippers and Wolves played, ClipperZoe took one look at Kirilenko and exclaimed "Who is that and why does he have that unfortunate haircut." The rest of the game she referred to him simply as "bowlcut". He could be a Bond villain too of course, but he's already a Rocky IV villain, so it seems a little much to put him in a Bond movie too.
  • Three point shooting. The Wolves are truly dreadful shooting the three ball, which bodes very well for the Clippers. The most common characteristic of their defeats this season has been high-volume, high-percentage three point shooting. Minnesota is dead last in three point percentage, at barely better than 30%. J.J. Barea is the only player on the team that hits better than one in three, though Budinger is 36% for his career.
  • Clipper killers. There's no reason the Clippers shouldn't win this game -- but still I'm worried. Derrick Williams had one of the best games of his young career against the Clippers last season, and Barea has been a notorious Clipper-killer for years. Budinger as well has had some big games against the Clippers in his Houston days.
  • Connections. Chauncey Billups resurrected his lottery-bust-track career in Minnesota, where he took over the starting job for an injured Terrell Brandon over a decade ago. From there he signed a free agent deal in Detroit and became Mr. Big Shot. Ryan Hollins spent a season in Minnesota during Love's second year in the league. Fun fact -- Hollins got more starts that year (27) than Love did (22). Mickael Gelabale and Ronny Turiaf played for the French National Team at the London Olympics this summer.
  • Get the Minnesota perspective at Canis Hoopus.
  • Lyrical reference:

    And a She-Wolf After the War -- Throwing Muses

    so it's cowboys in flying colors riding home
    leave my tears alone it's too funny
    it's me and she spilling jewels and collarbones gray
    (waste of time now I don't want cold, lonely)
    ride by side down the road
    and a she-wolf (my face one more square)
    don't be afraid, it's my road once more alone

    I think I used a Muses song once before -- I should probably check to see if the Clippers won that game, but someone will let me know, no doubt. The Throwing Muses are one of my favorite bands of all time, an underappreciated alt-rock band from the 80s. This song is from an early EP called Fat Skier. I like the way that Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donnely sing over each other at times in seemingly unrelated threads. And as always with Muses songs the rhythms are unexpected.